United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING PERMISSION TO PROCEED UNDER A
PSEUDONYM AND FOR A PROTECTIVE ORDER RE: DKT. NO. 10
MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff Jane Doe's
("Plaintiff") Request to Proceed Under a Pseudonym
and for a Protective Order, which seeks to preserve
Plaintiff's privacy and prevent Defendant George Street
Photo & Video, LLC ("George Street") and other Doe
Defendants (collectively, "Defendants") from
publicly disclosing Plaintiff's identity. Req., Dkt. No.
10. Plaintiff served George Street with this Request and
supporting documents (Certificate of Serv., Dkt. No. 12), and
George Street has not filed objections or any other response.
Meanwhile, Plaintiff has filed an Amended Complaint, Dkt. No.
13, and given the newly asserted claims, has also filed a
Supplemental Brief in support of her Request to proceed
pseudonymously, Dkt. No. 14. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Request to Proceed Under a
Pseudonym and for a Protective Order.
suit arises from the online publication of excerpts of her
private wedding video, which she alleges "went
viral" and have been viewed "by millions of
Internet users" across the world. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 58-60. These excerpts allegedly depict
Plaintiff's new and "obviously inebriated"
husband "perform[ing] a series of sexually suggestive
and other inappropriate acts  directed toward Plaintiff,
" her "emotional reaction" to this behavior,
and Plaintiff being consoled by her family and friends.
Id. ¶¶ 51-52. In addition, Plaintiff
asserts that "hundreds of Internet users published
comments ridiculing and personally criticizing" her.
Req. at 3. Plaintiff alleges the publication of the video
excerpts has caused her to suffer several ongoing harms,
including severe psychological and emotional distress,
reputational damage, etc. Id. at 3, 6. In addition,
Plaintiff, whose name has not yet been linked to the video,
fears that if unable to proceed under a pseudonym and with a
protective order, her name will become associated with the
video, resulting in further emotional distress and
potentially irreparable harm to her reputation and career.
TO PROCEED PSEUDONYMOUSLY
pleadings must identify the names of parties to a suit.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). However, "a party may preserve his
or her anonymity in judicial proceedings in special
circumstances when the party's need for anonymity
outweighs prejudice to the opposing party and the
public's interest in knowing the party's
identity." Does I through XXIII v. Advanced Textile
Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000). In cases
where pseudonyms "are used to shield the anonymous party
from retaliation, " the Court, in evaluating the need
for anonymity, also considers (1) the severity of the
threatened harm, (2) the reasonableness of the anonymous
party's fears, (3) the anonymous party's
vulnerability to retaliation, and (4) the prejudice to the
opposing party and whether proceedings may be structured to
avoid that prejudice. Id. at 1068 (citations
omitted). Additionally, the Court "must decide whether
the public's interest in the case would be best served by
requiring that the litigants reveal their identities."
Id. (citation omitted).
"[t]he question is one of balance." Jane Roes
1-2 v. SFBSC Mgmt., LLC, 77 F.Supp. 3d 990, 993 (N.D.
Cal. 2015). As the Ninth Circuit explained:
[A] district court must balance the need for anonymity
against the general presumption that parties' identities
are public information and the risk of unfairness to the
opposing party. . . . Applying this balancing test, courts
have permitted plaintiffs to use pseudonyms in three
situations: (1) when identification creates a risk of
retaliatory physical or mental harm . . .; (2) when anonymity
is necessary "to preserve privacy in a matter of
sensitive and highly personal nature" . . .; and (3)
when the anonymous party is "compelled to admit [his or
her] intention to engage in illegal conduct, thereby risking
Advanced Textile, 214 F.3d at 1068 (citations and
quotations omitted); see also Jane Roes 1-2, 77
F.Supp. 3d at 993 (recognizing that "[i]n this circuit,
. . . we allow parties to use pseudonyms" where it is
"necessary" to "protect a person from . . .
ridicule or personal embarrassment."
(quoting Advanced Textile, 214 F.3d at 1068
(emphasis in Jane Roes 1-2))); cf. Doe v. Standard Ins.
Co., 2015 WL 5778566, at *3 (D. Me. Oct. 2, 2015)
(indicating that something more than general
"[l]itigation-related stress and a general desire for
privacy" is needed to justify the granting of a request
to proceed under a pseudonym). The Ninth Circuit has,
however, recognized that "the balance between a
party's need for anonymity and the interests weighing in
favor of open judicial proceedings may change as the
litigation progresses." Advanced Textile, 214
F.3d at 1069. Weighing Defendants' and the public's
interests against Plaintiffs privacy concerns, the Court
finds Plaintiffs need for anonymity currently outweighs the
public's interest in her identity and the potential for
prejudice to Defendants. First, with regard to prejudice to
the opposing party, despite being served with this Request,
George Street has in no way opposed it or articulated how it
may suffer any degree of prejudice if Plaintiff proceeds
pseudonymously. Plaintiff further notes that George Street
has known her identity for almost a year through its
participation in pre-filing settlement negotiations and has
thus far refrained from disclosing any information
identifying her. Req. at 4; Burgoyne Decl. ¶ 5, Dkt. No.
11. Thus, under the present circumstances, the Court
identifies no prejudice to Defendants in allowing Plaintiff
to proceed pseudonymously.
while the public interest always favors open access to
judicial proceedings and there is a general presumption
against anonymity, Advanced Textile, 214 F.3d at
1067, the Court does not perceive any particular interest the
public might have in knowing Plaintiffs identity. The subject
of these proceedings can be understood and scrutinized
regardless of Plaintiff s identity. See id at 1072
("[W]e fail to see  how disguising plaintiffs'
identit[y] will obstruct public scrutiny of the important
issues in this case." (footnote omitted)). Furthermore,
the public may have an interest in allowing Plaintiff to
proceed under a pseudonym because, among other things,
Plaintiff has indicated she would rather dismiss her claims
than pursue them if pursuing them means exposing her
identity. Burgoyne Decl. ¶ 4. To deny Plaintiffs request
under the circumstances of this case might not only prevent
Plaintiff from proceeding on her claim, but might also
discourage others who suffer online public shaming and other
such offenses from asserting their claims for fear of further
cyber-related exposure. See Advanced Textile, 214
F.3d at 1073 ("[P]ermitting plaintiffs to use a
pseudonym will serve the public's interest in this
lawsuit by enabling it to go forward."); Doe v.
Rostker, 89 F.R.D. 158, 162 (N.D. Cal. 1981) (noting the
"most compelling situations" when plaintiffs should
be permitted to use pseudonyms include those "where the
injury litigated against would occur as a result of the
disclosure of the plaintiff's identity."). While
such a concern might not be sufficient in all cases, under
the current circumstances, the Court finds the public
interest does not presently weigh against Plaintiff being
allowing to proceed under a pseudonym and may actually weigh
in her favor.
Plaintiff's interest in protecting her identity is
compelling at this point. "This district has . . .
considered 'social stigmatization' [to be] among the
'most compelling' reasons for permitting anonymity. .
. . [which] is consistent with the Ninth Circuit's
instruction in Advanced Textile that anonymity is
permitted where the subject matter of a case is
'sensitive and highly personal[.]'" Jane
Roes 1-2, 77 F.Supp. 3d at 994. Plaintiff alleges
Defendants' actions resulted in the mass exposure of the
sensitive and highly personal excerpts of her wedding video,
leading to the public openly scrutinizing and criticizing her
online. She alleges this "public shaming" has
caused her great embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional
distress (Am. Compl. ¶ 63), and while thus far her name
is not associated with this video, it is reasonable that she
risks further stigmatization and embarrassment if her name is
linked to the video. In cases such as this one, when
plaintiffs have expressed "legitimate concern for their
privacy" and "an understandable fear of social
stigmatization, " it is fitting to allow them to proceed
under pseudonyms. Id. at 993; see also Roe v.
Ingraham, 364 F.Supp. 536, 541 n.7 (S.D.N.Y. 1973)
("[I]f plaintiffs are required to reveal their identity
prior to the adjudication [of their case] on the merits . .
., they will already have sustained the injury which by this
litigation they seek to avoid.").
given the lack of prejudice to Defendants and the public as
compared with Plaintiff's legitimate privacy concerns,
the Court will allow Plaintiff to proceed anonymously.
However, as noted, courts have discretion to reevaluate the
need to proceed pseudonymously as litigation progresses, as
"the balance between a party's need for anonymity
and the interests weighing in favor of open judicial
proceedings may change[.]" Advanced Textile,
214 F.3d at 1069. Consequently, while the Court GRANTS